This Week’s Music: March 29
“This Little Light of Mine”
By Moses Hogan
Though it has only just begun, the Noteworthy column is already going to be taking a slight left turn as our services alter, the choir takes a brief break, and our experience of community changes shape for a little while. Instead of providing information about the offertory for the coming Sunday, these columns will be self-contained (much like we are right now), with a YouTube hyperlink to the musical works discussed. Just click on the title above, and it will take you where you need to go.
“This Little Light of Mine” is one of those perfect little melodies. It’s perfect, in my humble opinion, because this melody is simple enough to be sung by children (I’ll often hear the CDC Children singing it as they walk to and from Chapel), and rich enough to be musically satiating for adults. This particular arrangement by Moses Hogan falls firmly in the latter category. The harmonies are lush, the soloists sing with sincerity, the choir is precise – what’s not to love? Moses Hogan, as any choral nerd could tell you, is an absolute monolith of a choral composer, and arguably the most significant arranger of African American spirituals ever. Before becoming the preeminent arranger of Spirituals, he was an accomplished pianist, raised in a Louisiana church before heading off eventually to the Juilliard School.
The history of this tune and text is also immensely powerful. Most spirituals have their origins as slave songs sung in the antebellum American South, but “This Little Light of Mine” is different. It was first transcribed in the 1920s by Harry Dixon Loes, though there is no evidence to support that he wrote the piece himself. That anonymity worked out for the better, though, because before too long, the song belonged to everyone! The tune has been an anthem for the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and the women’s movement more recently. As Freedom Singer Rutha Mae Harris said, “Music was an anchor. It kept us from being afraid. You start singing a song, and somehow, those billy clubs would not hit you. It played a very important role in the movement.”
The words of this simple song got me thinking about our current situation. It’s a strange time to let our lights shine. Being cloistered away in our homes, it would be easy to feel like our light is put under a basket right now (Matt 5:15). I think there is a great opportunity in this, though, if we choose to get creative enough. There are so many ways to put our light on a stand if we act with intention. Now is the time to call a friend, to play Battleship over the phone, Skype your loved ones, make music and post it on Social Media. As beings made in God’s image, we too are creators! Lean into it! If you don’t feel comfortable making art, create a smile by reaching out to someone new. This is an opportunity to love in fresh ways, shine in new spaces, and proclaim the good news in new ways, so let’s get out there stay put inside and be the church!